The gospel reading for today is so rich that it spawns a ton of sermon ideas, but it also spawns lots of reflection ideas, not the least of which is asking Jesus’ question – ‘Who do you say that I am?’ – right here, right now, to you and to y’all. Y’all is the Church responding to the question. You is you, deep down and personal, replying along with Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
We all know Peter’s story… brash, assertive, likely to put his mouth in motion before his brain was in gear. Little did he know that this confession would change his life in unimaginable ways forever. Following ‘… the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ ultimately meant giving up his agenda for the agenda of God.
Our confessing… your confessing… “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” means the same thing.
The late English Christian leader and Anglican cleric John Stott warns us of the consequences of such a confession when he asks whether we are following Jesus or asking Jesus to follow us.
“Jesus never concealed the fact that his religion included a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. If he offered men his salvation, he also demanded their submission. He gave no encouragement whatever to thoughtless applicants for discipleship. He brought no pressure to bear on any inquirer. He sent irresponsible enthusiasts away empty. Luke tells of three men who either volunteered, or were invited, to follow Jesus; but no one passed the Lord’s test. The rich young ruler, too, moral, earnest and attractive, who wanted eternal life on his own terms, went away sorrowful, with his riches intact but with neither life nor Christ as his possession…
“The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict, half built towers – the ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so called nominal Christianity. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved, enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism…
“The message of Jesus was very different. He never lowered his standards or modified his conditions to make his call more readily acceptable. He asked his first disciples, and he has asked every disciple since, to give him their thoughtful and total commitment. Nothing less than this will do.” John R.W. Stott, Basic Christianity